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Immigration policy could change the education equation

Amy Scott Nov 24, 2014

Immigration policy could change the education equation

Amy Scott Nov 24, 2014

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous text version of this story incorrectly stated the legal status of Lorella Praeli’s mother. Because Praeli is now a legal permanent resident, her mother will qualify for deferred action under President Obama’s recent executive action. The text has been corrected.


We’re only beginning to grasp the implications of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, announced last week. With millions of undocumented immigrants free to work legally, and deportation no longer a risk (at least for a few years), there will be better-paying jobs for many – and a lot less stress.

For some, there may be another opportunity: education.

In some states, undocumented workers who qualify for deportation relief will become eligible for in-state tuition. They’ll be able to get driver’s licenses, making it easier to get to school. They also may be eligible for work-study jobs and internships.

Some may enroll in professional programs to become lawyers, teachers and pharmacists, says Michael Olivas, who teaches immigration law at the University of Houston, “because many of them just hadn’t been able to afford it before.”

Under the new policy, as many as 3.7 million parents of children who were born in the U.S. — or are legal residents — will become eligible for temporary relief from deportation, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. Another 290,000 undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them here illegally could also qualify. The action lifts the age requirement for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which applied only to people 30 and under.

The new policy won’t mean a flood of new college students, says Michael Fix, president of the Migration Policy Institute.

That’s partly because most who qualify are older than the traditional college-going age. Also, undocumented students still won’t qualify for federal financial aid. Most of those who are eligible live in states that already offer in-state tuition to undocumented students, Fix says.

But the new policy will help the school-age children of many who qualify, he says.

“What you could see among some of the U.S. citizen children is more persistence in school, better attendance, you could see maybe better grades, and you might well see better health,” he says.

A recent study from the nonprofit group Human Impact Partners found that children in families under the threat of detention or deportation end up with less education than children of citizens.

“Undocumented parents are really struggling with poor job conditions, with economic hardship and stress, and it can limit their participation in learning activities,” says Lili Farhang, one of the study’s authors.

Undocumented parents who have shied away from institutions, for fear of being found out, might now be more involved in their children’s schools, Farhang says.

An immigrant from Peru, Lorella Praeli didn’t discover that she was undocumented until her senior year in high school, but her sister found out at a much younger age.

“I could see how it affected her so much in both how she performed in school and how she related to others,” says Praeli, director of advocacy with the United We Dream network, which advocates for immigrant youth and families. 

Two years ago, Praeli’s sister qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and has blossomed in college, Praeli says.

“I was able to see it firsthand in my family, how this piece of paper this identification card and a nine-digit Social Security number – just changed who Maria was,” she says.

Praeli now has her green card. So under the new policy, their mom will now qualify for deferred action, too.

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